The Founding of the Presentation Brothers’ Schools at Birr in 1877; recollections of 1927 from J. Deering.
[Birr Historical Society meets again on Monday 4 December 2023 after a break of three…
Brigadier General James P. Cullen died at his home in Scarsdale, New York on 8 December 2017 at the age of 72. He was born in Queens, New York on 27 January 1945 to Agnes Gorman and Patrick Cullen but came to Ireland and to Rahan, Co. Offaly when he was four and spent almost four years in the Offaly parish before returning to New York where he took his first job soon after. Thereafter Jim never stopped working, giving of his time whether for remuneration or in a voluntary capacity.
Either way the service was extraordinary because Jim had a first class brain and huge commitment to his clients and the voluntary activities he loved. Nothing was by half and his way of doing things was thorough. His military training served him well and he brought to everything he did an awesome level of detail, but never more than was necessary to get the job done efficiently.
Jim was a great friend to Offaly History and wrote of his early years for the 2005 Offaly Heritage journal an article about how much he loved his mother’s homeplace.
By 19 years old Jim had done his first real estate deal and others would follow. Many were for his law office clients. He fully understood how to maximise site value and was in demand by charitable and builder clients. But that was later. First it was long distance lorry driving to put himself through university and law school. This was followed by a spell in the army, joining as a Private First Class, but soon advancing to an officer in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps. By 1992 when Jim was just 47 he would end up as Chief Judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals (IMA) with promotion to the rank of Brigadier General. It was the highest position in the U.S. Army Judge Advocate Reserve and he was fully on top of it for four years.
A real estate and human rights attorney, Jim was the co-founder and first President of the Brehon Law Society, served on the Advisory Board of Human Rights First, was President and Chairman of Friends of Sinn Fein, Inc., was the treasurer of the Construction Industry World Trade Center Disaster Relief Fund and a board member of the 4th JAG Alumni Association.
For many retirement would be for leisure but now Jim became a private lawyer near Wall Street and probably did not stop until his most recent illness of the last two years. Jim brought to property law, human rights law and to his beloved causes in Northern Ireland the same relentless passion for excellence. This was so obvious at the time of the Irish Times in-depth analysis of the Sinn Féin funds in the U.S. Jim was president of the Friends of Sinn Féin in New York and there was nothing the investigating journalists could do to trip him up. He was on top of his brief. It was the same with his letters to the Secretary of State Northern Ireland in the matter of security force murder gangs and miscarriages of justice.
Jim Cullen played an active role in the negotiation of the Good Friday Agreement, acted as an international civil rights monitor in Northern Ireland, testified before the U.S. Congress in the case of murdered human rights lawyer, Patrick Finucane and assisted with the inquiry into the killing of Rosemary Nelson. A true leader and inspiration to many, the Graymoor Franciscan Friars (near New York and West Point) awarded him the Graymoor Award (2014) for his human rights work. This must have been all the more special to him as his old friend and parishioner, Fr Aloysius Craven of Rahan, Offaly had been stationed at Graymoor until his death in 1996.
Less well known was Jim’s advocacy for proper judicial procedures in the wake of the wars in Afghanistan. He had no time for the Neocon contempt for fair procedures and lined up with other retired U.S. generals to fight the notion that the Enemies of the State must be beaten by illegal methods. ‘In alliance with the human rights group, he and his once-uniformed colleagues lobbied major politicians to support a ban on coercive interrogations.’ (Haberman, New York Times, 13 Dec. 2017). Cullen’s case was vindicated when President Obama invited him and the other retired generals to the White House on the night of his inauguration as president to announce the closing of Guantánamo Bay detention centre. On 22 Jan. 2009 the sixteen retired generals were on hand to see President Obama sign the executive order. Closing it would prove difficult, however, even for the new president.
Grave of General Hand of Shinrone and Rock Ford Planatation, Lancaster County, PA
Jim Cullen was generous to his friends and his causes. He always made time from a busy day to show visitors the Five Points, Wall Street, West Point, and so much more including Gettysburg, Antietam and General Hand’s home at Rock Ford Planation, P.A. Hand was born in Clyduff, Shinrone and was adjutant to Washington in the War of Independence. For those lucky enough to get the Civil War tour it was organised with military precision, but there was no rush once friends embarked with General Cullen.
Jim Cullen last spoke to Offaly History in March 2016 and his lecture was recorded and is available as a podcast. On that occasion his subject was a military analysis of the 1916 rising. This essay was published in Offaly Heritage 9 in December 2016. Jim’s great friend Stephen McNeill died in May 2016 and Jim himself was frequently ill thereafter but fought off his illness until that final call from the Commander-in-chief on 8 December 2107.
Jim Cullen on the evening of his lecture at Offaly History Centre in March 2016. Seen here with Mrs Eithne Adams.
We shall miss his enthusiasm for all things to do with Offaly History and happy to have known him. Our sympathy to his partner Catherine, his children – Tara, Kerry, Erin and Sean – and his wider family around the parishes of Rahan and Kilcomac. He loved all dearly.
Brigadier General James P. Cullen (Retired), ‘The Crooked Road from Rahan to Chief Judge, U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals.’, in Offaly Heritage 3 (2005), pp 166-8.
James P. Cullen, ‘A retrospective military analysis of the 1916 Rising’, In Offaly Heritage 9 (2016), pp 258 -79.
For a short obituary see Tullamore Tribune, 14 Dec. 2017.
For the executive order to close Guantámamo bay order see Clyde Haberman in New York Times, 13 December 2017.
Jim Cullen reviewing the literature on the master, Abraham Lincoln, at Gettysburg, May 2014.